My work schedule these days hasn't given me much freedom to do my usual youth activism. As a workaround, I've been setting up my co-workers with opportunities to both speak at public schools and for individual mentorship.
Even if I don't have time to do something (right now -- this is changing in Feb!), it's ridiculously easy to still make a difference. Check out these two smiling faces below:
They belong to Daniel Russo, production designer at "Countdown with Keith Olbermann," and Yoachily Urena, a student and aspiring artist at The Bronx Academy of Letters. Earlier this week, I worked out a day with Danny to have Yoachily shadow him on the job so she could gain a better understanding of what it means to create graphics for a live news and commentary show.
Yoachily had a great time getting to know the graphics team members, watching Danny create the elements needed for the show and learning about the tools he uses. They exchanged information and now she has an experienced designer in her budding network of future colleagues (and possibly co-workers, who knows?). Yes, it was that easy.
Granted, there are some things you should keep in mind before introducing a teen to your co-worker. I've outlined some notes below and hopefully they will inspire you to take a few minutes to set up something like this at your job.
Finding A Teen
Super easy. If you don't have any local friends with teens or a teen relative, ask me and I'll help you sort it out.
Picking A Co-Worker
Imagine that you are a teen and then imagine shadowing that potential co-worker for the day. If it looks like a stressful, awkward nightmare, find someone else. It's best to go with someone who has a generally positive attitude and who has had experience volunteering with young people. Use your best judgement.
- Make sure HR is OK with it. Find out what the policy is. In my case, other coworkers had brought in their kids so I knew it was fine.
- Make sure that the teen's parents are aware and have consented and have contact info (work address, your and the co-worker's contact info, etc.).
- Make sure that the teen has a safe way of getting home.
- Make sure you check in with the parents before and after the shadow session.
- Help the teen make the most out of this experience. Remind them to see if they can get extra credit from his/her school and help them meet the requirements.
- Help your co-worker get the most out of this experience too! Get a bio from the teen to share with him/her in advance, forward work samples if appropriate, etc.
- Be sure to send relevant links about your co-worker to the teen in advance so that they can review work samples, understand his/her role a bit more, etc.
- When approaching a potential co-worker about this opportunity, make sure you do it at a time when they aren't stressed out and will probably say no. Pick a time when they look somewhat relaxed and open to this sort of suggestion.
- Once you've assisted with coordinating the shadow session, step away and let your co-worker and teen bond. Don't micro-manage their experience but do leave yourself available for any questions or assistance the teen may have.
- Try to lock down all of the details as much as possible before the date so that there is minimal stress for your co-worker. It should be an exciting experience they can look forward to, not something they feel is a burden or an inconvenience.
Be Clear And Direct
You might be thinking, "well how am I going to even bring this up to my co-worker?" It's really easy. Just approach them and tell them there is a teen who would love the chance to shadow them at work on TBD date. Briefly explain what that would entail and what the benefits would be (one-day mentorship, able to inspire a teen, etc.). Do your due diligence and find out if HR policy rewards this sort of thing and share that info with your co-worker.
If your co-worker is interested, thank them and let them know you'll follow up with all confirmed details asap. Have them email you their available dates and the related links to share with the teen. Use that to lock a date with the teen and then send a confirmation email to both parties.
Make sure that you take some time when the teen arrives to privately speak with them about what they can expect and give them some tips on how to get the most out of this experience with your co-worker. That will take less than five minutes and it will help ease any jitters the teen might have about not knowing what's going to happen.
Walk the teen to meet your co-worker, do introductions and then leave them to do their thing. Make sure you check in with both your co-worker and the teen afterward to see how it went. If they didn't exchange info, suggest that they do.
If it went really well (I'm sure it will!), consider working with your co-worker to find someone else in the office who can have a teen shadow them for a day.
Some Excuses You Might Hear -- And Responses For Them
"I don't have time to have a teen shadow me all day, he/she will get in the way."
The teen doesn't need to shadow your co-worker the entire day. It may even be more practical for the teen to visit for only a few hours during a specific part of your co-worker's day. Find out what that could be and work out the times.
"I'm not comfortable with kids."
Understandable, but a comment based in fear/nerves. Assure your co-worker that this teen is there to learn, not to judge your colleague. Emphasize the positive qualities of the interaction.
"I wouldn't know what to show them."
Have them imagine a skill or skills related to their job they wish they knew earlier in their career, and then determine the best way to share this info with the teen during the shadowing session.
What's In It For You
- Making a difference in a teen's life
- Bonding a bit more with your co-worker
On the PR/biz side, this is also great fodder (as long as parents have consented) for your company blog/newsletter/team meeting update.